Plot: This is the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), a successful editor of French Elle. A horrific stroke leaves his mind intact but his entire body paralyzed. He finds hope with his memories and imagination, attempting to make something of his new state.
Who’s it for: This is a fantastic art-house film. It’s in subtitles (French), so you must be willing to read and handle the exploration of life after a severe stroke.
Expectations: I thought nothing of this film when I first heard of it. But then a fellow critic said it might be his favorite film of 2007.
Mathieu Amalric as Jean-Dominique Bauby: Most of the film is through the one working eye of Jean-Dominique. So when the film goes to third-person and we can see Amalric, it is almost distracting. But then, watching him learn the alphabet through a series of blinks with his one working eye, we are given an engaging performance.
Anne as Claude: Claude, just like almost all women in this film, is given a loving, caring, sensual role. Claude translates the book for Jean-Dominique and there is a great, subtle affection that the two share.
Max von Sydow as Papinou: Most of the cast will be unrecognizable to American audiences except for Sydow. Normally an imposing figure, here he is Papinou, the ailing father of Jean-Dominique, and he is stuck trying to come to terms with his son’s stroke.
Talking: With Jean-Dominique’s mind fully aware of his situation, there is fantastic inner-dialogue only he can hear. And showing how the alphabet is learned and the necessary patience that is needed is another nice touch.
Sights and sounds: I have never seen a film do a better job of using the camera as the first-person perspective. It is mesmerizing. The focus, the black, everything that is done to show life through one working eye works to perfection. It creates an absorbing, claustrophobic atmosphere that I hope will be recognized with an Oscar nomination for cinematography.
In recent years, American audiences have found documentaries, and left foreign films behind. I hope that will not be the case for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” The story of Jean-Dominique attempting to make something out of life after a stroke is unforgettable. The camera techniques used actually give the audience just a hint of what it must be like to live with a fully aware mind, and one working eye.
Overall Grade: 8